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SmartPhoneLogosCould mobile platform interoperability innovation be the most significant disruptive innovation (missed) this year? Most don’t recognize the usability pain, risk to our privacy, and productivity-draining factors that result from being forced to choose one mobile platform over another. These issues exist because our choice by design does not interoperate well on the most basic of tasks with the other two.

Switching cost is too high, so users tolerate the pain and productivity loss using technology to work with colleagues. I’m talking about mobile, but this applies to every platform. Subsequent costs to application development, innovation cycles, and expansion of technology to bring developing regions into the global economy. The costs are HUGE.

My Grounding

I love all three companies. They are unique and all produce great products. They own and serve their markets well, and are diverse and differentiated. I will continue to be a customer of all three.

I also have an iPhone; an Android phone; and hope to try the new Microsoft Lumia 900 if it comes out on Sprint with my unlimited everything plan. I have Gmail and ActiveSync email accounts, and corporate Microsoft Exchange -based email in my business. My network of colleagues are generally split between the three (and some Blackberry here and there).  I know first-hand how much of a productivity drain the issue of not-quite-there interoperability really is.

The Customer is #1

All vendors demonstrate a level of arrogance when they don’t listen, understand, respect and respond to the need for interoperability. In an imperfectly diverse world, technology must manage technology diversity better, and the vendor of our technology and service to get usability headaches out of our way.

Technology diversity is driven by cultures, regional adoption, history, likes and dislikes…, basically, those things that make us all unique and different. Diversity is good; it drives competitive urgency around innovation. Technology should promote connections across global diversity. We like and want more of that.

Stop the Madness

However it’s time to stop the madness, and start making technology diversity work for customers – make productivity work better together across platforms by lowering usability barriers that prevent platforms from providing the same seamless experience on each. Build the interoperability bridge that makes things work with the same zero-effort for users on every mobile platform.

  1. All email should work on all platforms, whether Gmail, ActiveSync on the non-native platform, it needs to display HTML, in the base email tool and be interactive as the sender intended.
  2. Calendar events should be “one click” to accept and send, to any attendee, whether on Google calendar, or something else.
  3. Developers should be able to build apps once, and publish to all three platforms easily so they can focus on creating and innovating instead of multi-platform porting.

Why should the big three work on interoperability for us? It will accelerate innovation for everyone, increase productivity, and make every customer delighted to continue to use their iPhone, Android, or Windows phone. Hardware vendors can also iterate faster.  We’ll see quantum innovation for apps and hardware, if the OS folks get together and make interoperability better.

For Good Reason It Can Be Done

Did I mention that it will help increase global economic growth? Reducing massive productivity drains on this scale will have that kind of effect.

Think about how easy it has become visit company websites and get information on the internet? Browsers have become the grand-unifying platform to ensure that everyone has access to the same tools and information on the internet. It took HTML and the WWW consortium to ensure that it didn’t diverge (and even then, there were variations that had to be reined in between the browser providers).

Clearly, interoperability works.

Customer Experience Does Not Live In One Platform

Sorry Apple, Microsoft, Google, it’s just not going to happen. The world isn’t going to wake up and one day and say: “We get it, you are best. And today we’re all going to switch over to the your platform.” The world is full of diversity, and that’s a good thing.

What WILL happen, though is that people will wake up one day and recognize that one of you went out of your way to build the seamless interoperability bridge between the platforms, and have taken the collective, diverse, community user experience seriously. And as a result, have taken the software out of our way. This will be the key to the next quantum leap in global economic productivity.

Why not all three of you get together and do this – and do it FAST? [BTW, Microsoft, this would be a great idea for you alone, as the laggard. Put your army of technology innovators on this one thing and catapult Windows Phone forward as the open-system.]

The Future Focus for Disruptive Innovation

Recognizing and addressing this customer need, we can all get back to innovating, building new invention, and creating the future without your customers all complaining about the pain they experience interacting with the rest of the world on the other 2 platforms.

The future will be one where the diversity is less about the platform, but more about the nurturing and community building and innovative creation of solutions, REAL solutions, that reach everyone because they are not limited by the platform choice that had to be made to initially create them.

Ponder This

Clayton Christensen has defined disruptive innovation as the kind of innovation I’m suggesting here. Innovation that brings massive new solutions to a much broader audience that could not otherwise receive them because of cost, platform, distribution, business models or other reason. Apple, Microsoft, Google, this interoperability could well be the most significant disruptive innovation you could do this year over any other project.

Leave a comment with your thoughts on getting technology out of your way.

3 Responses to It’s Time to Compete On Interoperability Innovation – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Listen Up!

  1. Great blog! This one I couldn’t wait to tweet about. Well done, to the point, and right on target.

  2. JT Pedersen says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thoughtful piece.  And, you’re right about the overarching benefits of interoperability.  Unfortunately, working at Autodesk, early in my career, I learned one thing.

    Interoperability is purely driven by, "what’s in it for them?"  At Autodesk, the individual business units didn’t care if the ‘standard’ files they created caused other units’ apps to crash.  At the time, when pushing the topic (AEC & MCAD apps didn’t play nice, my customers used both), one VP told me he didn’t care about the other division’s customer problem.  In short, his compensation structure didn’t motivate him to care.

    Unfortunately, improving interoperability does not, in itself, generate any new revenue for Apple, Microsoft, or Google.  There’s no motivation for them.

    Until there’s a compelling reason, it is unlikely to happen, and even then only to the minimal extent necessary.

    • Andrew Stein says:

      Great point, JT. I think however that this is changing. Even Autodesk has opened up, and even embraced open DWG recently.

      The difference today, over last decade is that customers are demanding it. And, the trend toward customer-centric solutions is undeniable.

      It used to be that customers would vote with their feet, and switch. But now, with Social Media, neither Apple, Microsoft, or Google would like the negative press on this issue – so more and more vendors are trying to respond to the constant flow of fluid content coming at them from social.

      Here’s hoping!

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